In 2015—six months after being awarded the coveted Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship—James Drinkwater journeyed into the interior of Australia. Working en plein air in the dry creek beds with canvases roped to desert oaks, the artist created paintings, drawings and hand embellished unique state etchings.
It was a pivotal moment in the artist's career. His vision of the ancient land, created from those hot and heady days and nights, has become known as “Encrusting the Marvellous Heart”. It was a deeply personal exploration by the artist of the landscape and the history of the people who have walked it forever. As he worked, his feelings of longing for his young family at home were foremost in his head. Yet the lure of the country kept him working feverously.
Published by Block Editions, the Encrusting the Marvellous Heart collection has not been released for sale until now. It is a time capsule of a remarkable moment in the artist's life. Such is the regard of this body of work, the Art Gallery of NSW has acquired two works for their permanent collection.
Drinkwater's process of painting directly with sugar-lift on etching plates—scratching them on the ironstone of the MacDonnell Ranges and ultimately reworking individually in ink, pencil and gouache—provide an insight into the artist's most intimate moments within the vast country that he worked. They are at once rugged and romantic.
At the time, the artist penned a poem to accompany the series. He offered an explanation to me of the meaning of his words and, with his permission, I publish it here.